Lukashenka Defends Futile Causes, Showcases Young Son at the UN
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka went to New York on 26–29 September to attend the world leaders' meetings at the United Nations. The country’s servile state-run media stubbornly called his trip a “working visit to the United States”.
Meanwhile, the sojourn in New York lacked any bilateral dimension. In fact, Lukashenka is still under the United States’ travel ban, and multilateral events remain his only excuse to set foot on the US soil.
While Lukashenka stuck to his traditional criticism of Western policies, his statements at the UN this year were far less confrontational than his speech from the same rostrum ten years ago. The Belarusian leader emphasised several linchpins of Belarus’ multilateral agenda, such as the promotion of 'integration of integrations' and the protection of the traditional family.
However, this visit is likely to be remembered not for these blind-alley initiatives but for his young son’s prominent presence at some official events.
Development Goals Yield to Geopolitics
This was Lukashenka’s fourth trip to New York during his 21 years in office. All of them took place on so-called UN jubilee years (1995, 2000, 2005 and 2015). On these occasions, the UN rostrum provides a unique opportunity for national leaders to bring their positions on global and local issues to the attention of their counterparts and the international community. This year, Alexander Lukashenka had two opportunities to share his world vision.
Speaking at the UN Sustainable Development Summit, the Belarusian leader boasted briefly about Belarus’ achievements in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving 100% adult literacy, promoting gender equality, and drastically reducing maternal and child mortality. He never mentioned the country’s failure to fully achieve three millennium development goals, in particular, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, an area where Belarus has long been receiving substantial international assistance.
The rest of his statement was all about his regrets about the “balance of power that was lost with the disintegration of the Soviet Union”. He routinely denounced “the policy of hegemony and national egoism lead[ing] to wide use of pressure, sanctions, restrictions and military actions” and preached every country’s “right to choose its own development path”.
Lukashenka: The crisis in Ukraine is a 'fratricidal slaughter' and a 'civil war' Read more
Without naming the country, Lukashenka attacked at length the US policy in the Middle East claiming that it had destroyed Iraq and Libya and was bringing destruction to Syria. At the same time, he spared a few words for the issue of “fratricidal slaughter” happening in neighbouring Ukraine. The Belarusian president chose to call this conflict, which the international community sees as inspired and sustained by Russia, a “civil war”.
Belarus’ Foreign Policy Priorities Voiced
Lukashenka’s statement in the general debate at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly started with the traditional complaints about “efforts to impose a certain development model on other countries” as well as “export of 'colour' revolutions and controlled regime change”.
Apart from some general and universally acceptable theses, such as prioritising dialogue over military solutions, Alexander Lukashenka voiced several ideas and initiatives, which are likely to define Belarus’ foreign policy during the next few years.
First, he reiterated the idea of ‘integration of integrations’ as “the most topical trend of the modern world”. For Belarus, this idea relates in the first place to the integration between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union or a “Greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok”, in Vladimir Putin’s terms. Minsk remains enchanted by the verbal beauty of the formula, which, however, stands no realistic chance of implementation.
Second, the Belarusian president denounced “irresponsible social ideas” and “social innovators” who treated someone’s “perverted whims” as a norm thus giving a "green light to social degradation, decay of moral principles and values”. Indeed, during the last few years, Belarus championed the cause of the traditional family rallying countries that rejected same-sex marriages. Belarusian diplomacy has strived to make this initiative as successful as its internationally acclaimed fight against human trafficking. Unfortunately, the battle against the “destruction of the traditional family” looks like a lost cause from its very inception since it failed to gather the support of any Western nation and even the majority of the developing world.
Lukashenka: 'Artificial cult of individual rights and freedoms' is a reason for today's crises Read more
Third, Alexander Lukashenka lambasted the “artificial cult of individual rights and freedoms to the detriment of the collective social interest”, which he sees as a deep-lying root of today’s crises. The president’s recipe against global threats and challenges is an alliance of “strong, responsible and efficient states”. In his view, such states should not be based on the respect of human rights and freedoms, open society, good governance and a market economy, as their application often results in “anarchy, lawlessness and violence”. Rather, their foundation should be stability, a socially oriented economy, “socially nurtured moral values, good traditions of spirituality and culture”, which are ensured by the government’s dominant role in all spheres of public life.
Non-impressive agenda and Kolya in the spotlight
In New York, the Belarusian president met with Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights. The office of the High Commissioner reported nothing about this meeting. Lukashenka’s press service emphasised his ritual denunciation of the politicisation of human rights. However, the very fact of the meeting fits well into the latest trend of Belarus’ dialogue with the international community on human rights issues.
Alexander Lukashenka met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde as well as the leaders of Cuba, Egypt and Ecuador, Belarus’ traditional partners. He also had a very brief standing encounter with the federal president of Austria. Hardly an impressive agenda for a trip lasting several days to the United Nations.
The visit would have gone unnoticed by the international media if it were not for Lukashenka’s decision to showcase his 11-year-old son Kolya at UN official functions. The Guardian ran a story about this fact describing the young boy as Lukashenka’s “preferred successor” and “heir”.
Pictures show Kolya taking the second-best seat on the Belarusian bench in the General Assembly hall, next to foreign minister Vladimir Makei during his father’s speech, as well as posing with Barack and Michelle Obama for a protocol photo. This is an unprecedented breach of protocol for international meetings of this level. Even the Middle East sheikhs refrain from exposing their offspring at similar events.
Despite his commendable efforts to reduce the intensity of confrontation in Belarus’ relations with the West, Lukashenka failed to seize the unique opportunity to bring in one way or the other the topic of Russia’s assertiveness in expanding its domination on the post-Soviet space and the threat to Belarus's independence that it creates. Instead, Kolya’s appearance is likely to be first thing that comes to mind when others recall Lukashenka's visit to the UN.
Congress of Belarusian Studies, Wiki-Manual, Belaruspolicy.com, KEF Belarus Civil Society Digest
Belarus Research Council has presented the Belarus Think Tank Rating. New online research database Belaruspolicy.com launched.
The 10th project on the Belarusian crowdfunding platform Talakosht has completed successfully – a book on facilitating activity in Wikipedia Wіkі-manual. Manage knowledge! has collected 4.3 million rubles.
The Belarusian authorities want to know the opinion of the business. Thus Information and Analytical Center at the Presidential Administration is conducting an online survey of entrepreneurs.
Belarus Research Council (BRC) presents first-ever Belarus Think Tank Rating results. The top three includes the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), the Research Center IPM and the analytical community Nashe Mnenie. The results were announced on 1 October in Kaunas, at the sixth BRC meeting that also introduced new think tanks’ online resources – thinktanks.by, belaruspolicy.com, imhoclub.by. The rating was initiated by Pact to motivate Belarusian research centres to improve the quality of their work and increase public awareness of the nation’s research sector capacity and output.
Fifth International Congress of Belarusian Studies kicks off in Kaunas. More than 450 scientists involved in studying Belarus people attend the biggest academic and expert event of the year. The Congress provides a platform for polemics on the entire spectrum of social and political sciences and in the humanities. The event takes place in the Vytautas Magnus University on 2-4 October in Kaunas. The Congress is traditionally conducted by the Institute for Political Studies Political Sphere.
Leadership in Local Communities calls for fellows. About 30 community activists will be selected to take part in the long-term leadership course on mobilizing citizens for addressing community issues and needs. This is the 8th Leadership Fellows Program implemented by Pact for Belarusian civil society activists; for two recent years it is organised jointly with the Office for European Expertise and Communications (OEEC). The deadline for applications is 12 October.
Registration for KEF opened. On 3-4 November Kastryčnicky Ekanamičny Forum, KEF titled as Economy of Belarus: At a Tipping Point will take place in Minsk. The registration and subscription for KEF updates are available. The overall objective of KEF-2105 is contribute to building consensus and trust towards a structural reform agenda, bringing the professionals together for an open discussion of the reform plans of the government of Belarus in the context of global trends and local challenges.
International Conference Deinstitutionalization: Global Experience and Way for Belarus was held in Minsk. The conference brought together leading experts from different countries. Deinstitutionalization approach is supported by Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and aimed at changing the forms of social support of the disabled. The initiative includes the promotion of qualitative research of the situation in Belarus, educational thematic seminars and pilot transition to independent living.
Sixth Golden Age University (GAU) kicks off in Grodno. On October 1, GAU conducted an opening ceremony of its 6th academic year. The program offers persons aged 55 to 85 a skills-, values-, and action-based civic education curriculum, and engages in advocacy and policy work towards better conditions for elderly population of Belarus to contribute to the country’s development as full-fledged citizens.
Press Club Belarus kicked off a new season of meetings with international media specialists by holding an open meeting in Minsk with Sam Woodhouse, a managing editor of BBC political programmes and BBC Election Night editor, on 25 October. Mr. Woodhouse talked about British standards of covering elections.
Belarusian Collegium calls for 2015-2016 academic year. The Belarusian Collegium (BC) provides additional education on contemporary history, philosophy/ literature, the European Union and journalism. Senior students and persons with higher education are invited to participate. BC is an initiative of a number of independent Belarusian institutions and private individuals; it started its activities since 1998. Education in BC is for free.
First Belarusian University joins Magna Charta Universitatum. In November 2014, ODB Brussels in cooperation with the National Institute for Higher Education organized a seminar on the opportunities of accession and cooperation with Magna Charta Universitatum Observatory. As a result, on 17-18 September in Bologna, International University MITSO has become the first institution of higher education in Belarus that has signed the Magna Charta of the European Universities.
Civil society initiatives
10th success at Talakosht. One more project on the Belarusian crowdfunding platform Talakosht has completed successfully – a book on facilitating activity in Wikipedia Wіkі-manual. Manage knowledge! has collected 4.3 million rubles (about $240). Developed by the youth CSO Falanster Wіkі-manual is the 10th successful project that raised funds through the platform Talakosht, launched last year.
Entrepreneurs Forum announced a program of reforms. On 28 September the Forum of entrepreneurs was held in Mink and attended by about 200 delegates, representatives of the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Economy. Organized by the Perspective NGO, the Forum presented a new program of reforms in the regulation of the work of small businesses.
People’s voting for the projects participating in the 6th competition of social projects Social Weekend launched on 24 September. Internet users should choose the best 20 ideas out of more than 150. The organizers and the jury will select another 20 projects. The finalists will receive more than 350 million rubles (about $20,000) for the implementation of their projects.
Interaction between state and civil society
President's Decree on signing UN Disability Rights Convention. The Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities welcomes the Decree and believes that the signing of the Convention by Belarus may have unprecedented consequences for the progressivity of the Belarusian society. For several years the Office conducted a campaign calling on the authorities to sign the Convention.
General plan of Minsk is under discussion. Minsk city executive committee informs about holding a public discussion of urban project – the General plan of Minsk. All interested are invited to a public discussion, which takes place from 12 October to 5 November.
Government wants to know the opinion of entrepreneurs. Information and Analytical Center at the Presidential Administration is conducting a survey of entrepreneurs concerning the decree №666 "On introduction of the state sanitary-hygienic examination on imported goods", which has drawn criticism of independent experts. The survey is anonymous and held in the online format.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.